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The Definition of a Friend

What constitutes a friend? The answer has changed over the years.

As a child my answer would have been that a friend is someone you can run around with. For example, everyone is Little Girl’s friend. If you’re willing to look at her shoes and listen to her tell you that they are the same as her friend’s, then you’re her friend. It doesn’t take much. Big Girl’s definition is someone who will play pretend with her. Are you willing to make the front half of my house a hotel, complete with a front desk and a concierge stand? Okay, you’re her friend now. I was the same way as a child. The kids on my block — including my sister — who would have tasting parties under the trees and play Stop the Pigeon (a game we created after watching reruns of Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines) all fell into the friend category. They were all the people who would play on the swings and get dirty with me.

In my teens the definition of a friend changed, though. A friend was someone who wouldn’t poke fun at me. Someone who I could write notes to and sit with at lunch. A friend was someone I could talk about boys with and discuss who we might want to kiss. It was someone who was willing to talk about all those taboo topics that you wonder about and agonize over. But because of my background — the whole losing a parent at six — I never took friendship much further. I watched the girls around me doing things like having sleepovers, hugging each other, going away. Nah, it wasn’t for me. Surface friends only, please.

Once I hit my 20s, the definition changed again. I got some therapy. Okay, I got a LOT of therapy. I wasn’t as afraid to get hurt. Still, back then you were my friend if you were willing to go clubbing with me. You liked to dance and hang out? We could become great friends. (And I was an awesome friend, IMHO, because I’m not really a drinker so I was a built-in designated driver.) I also liked going shopping with friends. Going to the city. Going to TGIFridays in between classes. Meeting guys. Hearing about what you might do with a guy. Being there when the guy things blew up. The surface thing was still there, though. Don’t ask me too many questions. Don’t look too closely at who I really was. I was sure you wouldn’t like what you saw. And then I hit my mid-20s.

I got even more therapy. Already married, I met a great group of girls and started hanging out with them. We started sharing things. Our shortcomings. Our fears. Our mistakes. I started giving kisses on the cheek. I started baring my soul. I got hurt sometimes. I made a lot of mistakes. It was all so new to me. I over-committed myself. A lot. I wanted to make everyone happy and make sure everyone still liked me. I got asked to be a bridesmaid. Twice. The friendships became couple friendships. Many of those amazing people are still in my life.

Then I hit my 30s and had kids. Well, Big Girl. Friendship changed again. Yes, I wanted someone to listen and to be there for me and someone I could be there for, but kid compatibility became even more important. Work connections took on more importance, too. Writers who were living the same life — pitching stories, working until all hours, agonizing when their story queries went unanswered. Again, my world expanded. My life changed. (My one regret during this time: the loss of a friend who introduced me to many of the people I met in my 20s.)

And that’s sort of where I am today. It’s a funny time. I want to belong and be liked, but have far less time to revel in the easiness that comes from sitting with a good friend. Don’t get me wrong! I have plenty of friend time. About 15 emails have gone back and forth this morning as we — three of my favorite mommy friends — try to pick a night to go out for Greek food and conversation. But I am far less patient when it comes to new people.

I’m writing about friendship because I am thinking about something that happened this week. Can’t really write that much about it other than to say there’s a whole lot of high school garbage going on right now. Cliques and cattiness. Silly behavior that I just don’t have time for. Bottom line: I don’t have the time or inclination to deal with drama.

I wonder if this is the start of my next friendship chapter: The drama-free years. I’ll keep you informed…

One Response to “The Definition of a Friend”

  1. susan delg says:

    Interesting topic, Karen. I feel lucky to have a small handful of friends that I have kept since my pre-teen years. These girls have known all the incarnations of “me” — I’m very open and honest and a kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of gal. I don’t think that has ever changed. Inside, I still feel like the same person I was when I was 19, just with a bit more life experience and knowledge. My childhood friends have scattered around the country, and we rarely see each other or talk, but when we do, it’s as if all those years between don’t exist. We are 17 again, heading to the beach to sneak onto the sand at night, talking about our relationships, our families, our jobs, and now our kids. I miss them like crazy and wish we were all together again.
    My “adult” friendships are much much different. There are certain things that I do not share as easily, if at all. On the surface, my adult friends see a mover and shaker, a person who gets things done, a gal with a great job that takes her all over the place to work with cool people, a cool-headed and fun mom. I rarely let these newer friends in on the deeper struggles that I have — I wonder if that’s because I’m afraid that if I share these things with them that they will run for the hills and I’ll be left to my own lonely devices. I sat on information that my dad was diagnosed with cancer for 2 weeks with my adult friends, but my childhood friends were in the know in a matter of a couple of days, once I digested the information. I was comfortable sharing my insecurity in my dad’s future with old friends, but intimidated to tell new friends how I really felt. Maybe I’ll be able to share that kind of knowledge with them when we have known each other for 30 years. Geez, this is turning in to my own blog post, sorry Karen! I’ll stop now, even though I could on about this for much longer.

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